Trat environment recovering through participatory governance
The once vanishing mangroves of Trat province have recovered and are now thriving as a result of a partnership between government and local people, providing a model for participatory governance that has won awards while preserving the environment and livelihoods of people in that coastal province.
According to government and local people, the area covered by mangrove forests in Trat, a coastal province on the Gulf of Thailand, has grown by more than 19,700 acres in the past 15 years, an increase of 48 percent. Success was achieved under the “Strong Community Network for Sustainable Mangrove Forest” project overseen by the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR), which worked closely with local communities, tapping their wisdom and involving them in decision-making.
“A degraded forest zone has turned green once more,” said Boonying Singhapun, deputy chief executive of the Tambon Huang Nam Khao Administrative Organization in Trat. Last year, the project won the Thailand Excellent Participatory Governance Award.
Ban Pred Nai village head Manoch Phungrung told The Nation newspaper that many years ago people in the community saw officials replacing local mangrove species with non-native species and they instinctively knew this would have negative effects. They banded together to pressure authorities to stop, but at first officials would not listen.
They kept up the pressure, and after the DMCR appointed a new chief for Trat province who consulted villagers before taking actions, things began to improve. That model of participatory governance appealed to communities, and 13 more villages have joined the project and adopted the model of participation.
The importance of mangrove forests cannot be overestimated. Found in just 12 countries, they are an essential part of the eco-system that protects coasts from erosion and flooding, and are crucial to the survival of many fish species that use them as habitats and breeding grounds.
“Mangroves have been estimated to support 30 percent of the fish catch and almost 100 percent of the shrimp catch in Southeast Asia,” according to The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC). Mangrove loss inflicts hardships on coastal communities.
But it’s not just fishermen who depend on mangroves. Mangrove timber is used to build houses, boats, fishing tools, charcoal and firewood. Some mangrove tree species produce honey, tannin from bark, thatch material, edible fruits, fodder, and have medicinal properties with commercial potential.
In addition, mangrove forests are useful in mitigating climate change. “The capacity of mangroves, sea grasses, and salt marshes to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is becoming increasingly recognized at an international level. Of all the biological carbon, also termed as ’green carbon’, captured in the world, over half (55 percent) is captured by mangroves, sea grasses, salt marshes, and other marine living organisms, which are also known more specifically as ’blue carbon’,” according to the Center.